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I remember it was noon on a warm and sunny day. The air smelled of food, dust, gun powder, and smoke, just like every day. I was a dusty-haired six-year-old wearing a sticky dress and dirty, half-torn slippers, my nose runny and crusted. I was attempting to fly a kite, not that well, when all of a sudden, boom!

It felt as if the whole building near me was collapsing, like in an earthquake. All I saw was smoke, fog, and darkness.

I woke up after being unconscious; not only was my kite gone, but my hearing as well. I couldn’t stop screaming and crying because I was hurt, and I saw a doctor and some other people around me putting strange liquids, like wet ash and olive oil, in my left ear.

In my country, most doctors were not official. They were usually poorly trained and inexperienced or knew only about traditional medicine. There was one real doctor named Dr. Shahnaz, but she was working only at home because the Mujahedins (anti-Russian fighters) did not allow any women to work outside of their homes. Later on, I heard that the Mujahedins had killed her in her own house because besides treating regular people, she was also treating Khalqiha, soldiers who were longtime rivals of the Mujahedins.

Instead of making my ear and hearing better, they made it worse.

There was a war going on in Afghanistan, so how could there be doctors like in the United States? Most people, let’s say 95 percent, had been born in their houses, without any hospitalization, records, or birth certificates. There was no official education except the study of the Quran with a mullah or a home teacher. Children grew up with war, and we were used to it; it was normal to me. I was not scared of fighters, shootings, bullets crossing over my head, or people getting hurt or killed.

My family lived in Qandahar, the most dangerous city in the country. Our house was located at the end of a short and dark tunnel. The streets were dirty, dusty, and polluted. As a child, I played on the streets and watched people living their poor day-to-day lives among soldiers and the scary Mujahedins, with their long robes, beards, and a long cloth wrapped around their heads that covered their faces except for the eyes. Almost every day, I saw the soldiers running around, hiding, looking for trenches around the people’s houses, or I saw the Mujahedins. I thought it was like playing hide and seek, except they all had guns and were firing.

One day, just after the last day of Eid — the national Ramadan holiday and celebration of all Muslims in the world — my family were still celebrating, wearing new clothes and visiting friends. My two younger brothers, Jamil and Khalil, and I had just visited one of our favorite bakeries in Chawke Shaheeda in Qandahar, and we wanted to go home.

My older brother, Arif, escorted us from the store and showed us how to take a shortcut through the private streets to walk home quickly and safely. When we left the store, my brothers turned right at the first street and continued, as directed by Arif, but I kept going straight. Then my oldest brother noticed me going the wrong way and shouted loudly, “Laila!”

Then, somebody started firing, and my brother bent down to the ground to be safe, but I could not hear him and kept going straight down the dangerous public street. As I walked further and further, I saw the covered faces of the Mujahedins hidden behind walls, firing guns. A couple of them saw me and waved me away, but I didn’t get it. Finally, one of them ran to me, quickly grabbed me and pulled me over next to himself, so I wouldn’t get killed. He asked me in Pashto, “Ta se kawee!? Esta kor cher day?” (“What are you doing!? Where is your home?”)

I told him where I lived, and he guided me to one block away from my house, and I got home safely. My mother was very worried about me, and definitely thought that I was already dead. This was all the result of losing my hearing. I almost got killed, but Allah saved me.

Another day, about 3:00 in the afternoon, my mother sent me to buy bread. I went to a bakery and got in line to wait my turn. Two Mujahedins appeared and violently grabbed a man out of the line and took him a few streets away. It got my attention, though nobody seemed to even care what happened because people were scared to get involved in these things, and they pretended to be ignorant. However, I left the line and started following the two Mujahedins who had taken that man.

Mujahedins and soldiers were usually not concerned about children, so we kids could go anywhere and see anything we wanted to. I saw the two Mujahedins take the man to a narrow muddy street. They talked to him and then whispered to each other, again and again. The poor guy looked so scared and hopeless that I knew something bad was going to happen very soon. The two Mujahedins put the man on the ground, tied his hands and feet, covered his mouth tight and held his head in the dirty stream of water. Then one of them unfolded a long and very sharp bayonet from the point of his gun. Both of them held the man tightly on the ground by stepping on him, and then one of them started cutting his throat; it was like they were slaughtering a sheep. I was in severe shock and couldn’t look away. The man was moving hard, twisting, and he looked like he was bicycling. His blood, bright red, flowed in the dirty stream and around his head and shoulders.

The two Mujahedins left the dead body there and moved on, but I still watched for a few more minutes. At last, I ran home, with no bread, of course, because I had completely forgotten. When I got home, my mother was so worried about me again. She got mad at me and started slapping and pinching me all over, but I did not feel anything. I was numb because my whole mind and all my thoughts were occupied with that horrible sight. I was frozen all that evening and couldn’t eat or drink. I was deep in thought and curious about that dead body, so I quickly put on my half-torn slippers again and started running as fast as I could to see what had happened to the body. When I got there, the corpse was still laying there. Nobody had even touched it. People were passing by as if nothing had happened. The man’s blood had turned thick, and the flies feasted upon it. I have never forgotten that day.

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David Dodd June 17, 2009 @ 3:24 p.m.

This is a tremendous story. And yours is a tremendous life. May you have many opportunities to celebrate it.


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